Social Listening For Preemptive Action (And Profit)

A police department was conducting a heavily publicized investigation. It asked the community for help. A resident wanted to provide a tip but could not access the department's Web site, which was unable to scale to the deluge of traffic it was getting.

“We became aware of this on social media and escalated it internally to get a resolution,” recalls Jeremy Wasner, director, social strategy for Rackspace, the Windcrest, Tex.-based managed cloud computing company.

The police department was a client -- and, even though Rackspace had not written the code that was at fault, it provided a solution to a problem it knew about only because it is always paying attention to what people are saying about it — and its customers — online.

The company has been practicing social listening since it first got involved with social media in 2008, and sees it as a natural extension of the “people-based” Fanatical Support philosophy that has been baked into its modus operandi since 2000.

“When brands got involved with social early on, they were using it as a broadcast mechanism. ‘Oh, this is the new email; I can spam all my customers and prospects with my brand message and get new business out of it,’” says Wasner.

Many, of course, still do — even if it’s under the guise of a “lookbook” or filtered through an “influencer.”

“We just took a fundamentally different approach,” Wasner continues. “We recognized it as a channel to communicate directly with customers who were having problems but who haven’t reached out to support yet, or don’t know they have to reach out to support yet, or have a need and are asking their community for help.” 

Melissa Parrish, VP, research director at Forrester Research, cited Rackspace in a webinar hosted by Brandwatch CMO Will McInnes Tuesday. Among other examples of brands such as Hallmark, Taco Bell, Red Roof Inn and Gatorade using social intelligence effectively, Parrish mentioned another scenario where Rackspace takes a complaint it observes from an anonymous Twitter handle, identifies the customer, fixes the problem and then notifies the customer that the problem is solved before he or she has even formally complained.

“That’s is the definition of surprise and delight,” as Parrish puts it, “but it is also having an impact on the bottom line.” In short, Rackspace has determined that monthly spend increases among most customers who have their problems solved preemptively.

Then there are the negative consequences of not paying attention.

Parrish recalls that CBS heavily promoted live streaming access to its Grammy Awards broadcast across all devices last February. But, similar to streaming problems the network experienced during the Super Bowl that I tweeted about myself, the attempt to follow its audience didn't go smoothly. To make matters worse, it seemed as if CBS had a deaf social ear: A promotional tweet popped up at the same time that many viewers were railing about the service not working for them.

If the network had been using social listening in the right way — real-time — it would not only have responded to the angry users, but also would have killed the prescheduled tweet for “CBS All Access,” the very service that had gone awry.

“Let go of your ‘social marketing’ strategy,” Parrish urges at the outset of her presentation. What she means is that social is a much bigger conversation than just marketing.

“Social listening and social intelligence tools assist across the entire lifecycle” of your product, she says. And social insights gleaned from those tools can — and should — be used to help to improve all functions within the company, from human resources to operation to PR.

McInnes is laudably coy about what Brandwatch, his U.K.-based company, might bring to the table during his own presentation, making the webinar a worthwhile listen on the ride home. In response to one question at the end, he offers an interesting tale about how a major, global ice cream brand learned that a key assumption it had made about its customers was just plain wrong after listening to them on social.

Turns out that its heavy discounting on weekends was unnecessary because ice cream is not usually an impulse buy, but rather is quite “premeditated.”

My experience precisely, even if I’ve never gone social about it.

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